Natural Gas Transmission Pipeline Safety Study Released by NTSB on January 27, 2015

On January 27, 2015, the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) adopted a safety study, with 30 recommendations, on “integrity management” of gas-transmission pipelines in “high consequence areas.”  According to the NTSB news release on the study, “integrity management is the process by which pipeline operators and inspectors find and address potential problems before they result in accidents.”  “High consequence areas’ are those “where an accident could cause the most damage and loss of lives.”  The United States has about 298,000 miles of gas-transmission lines; one of the study’s findings is that high consequence areas are poorly identified and mapped.

The study was prompted in part by three major gas pipeline accidents since 2009: in Palm City, Fla., in May 2009; in San Bruno, Calif., in September 2010; and in Sissonville, West Va., in December 2012.

Here’s an excerpt from the NTSB news release summarizing the study’s focus and findings: “In 2003, the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) issued regulations governing these integrity management processes.  The regulations took effect in 2004.  In its safety study, the NTSB analyzed information from PHMSA’s data systems, federal and state pipeline inspectors, transmission pipeline operators, industry associations, and pipeline and safety engineering support organizations.  The study also reviewed recent NTSB accident investigations.  The study includes recommendations addressing a broad range of improvements.  These include broadened use of in-line inspection, the inspection method that detects the most potential problem areas per mile of pipeline.  The recommendations also emphasizes closer state to-state and federal-state cooperation among inspectors, and call for expanded and improved resources and guidance at the federal level, including improvements to the National Pipeline Mapping System and better integration of geographic information system (GIS) technology.”

The NTSB’s summary of the report is available online (as PDF) at http://www.ntsb.gov/news/events/Documents/2015_Gas_Transmission_SS_BMG_Abstract.pdf.

Sources: NTSB Releases Study To Better Manage Gas Pipeline Integrity, National Transportation Safety Board News Release, 1/27/15; and NTSB: Systemic flaws in safety oversight of gas pipelines, Associated Press, 1/27/15.

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